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The 1st Cavalry Division began January, 1861, stationed on the Pacific Coast, with companies also in New Mexico.
As the year went on and the Civil War began, companies of the 1st Cavalry took part in the evacuations of Forts Breckinridge and Buchanan, the advance on Manassas, and the First Battle of Bull Run, as well as duty in the Defenses of Washington, D.C..
During 1862, the 1st Cavalry conducted numerous reconnaissance operations, with companies also serving at Ft. Craig, Valverde, Yorktown, Gaines Mill, Charlestown, and the Battle of Fredericksburg.
In 1863, the 1st Cavalry fought in over a dozen major engagements, including Kelly's Ford, Manassas, Rappahannock, the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns, and the Battle of Gettysburg. From the 1st Cavalry's monument at Gettysburg:
"July 3. Moved with the Brigade at 12 m. under Brig. General W. Merritt from Emmitsburg and attacked the Confederate right and rear and was engaged for four hours until the action was brought to close by a heavy rain."
Throughout 1864 and 1865, companies of the 1st Cavalry would fight in nearly every single engagement, including the Wilderness, Mechanicsville, Bethesda Church, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Port Republic, Cedar Creek, and the Appomattox Campaign.
The 1st Cavalry was present at the Appomattox Court House for Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender, and was afterwards moved to Washington D.C. for a grand review on May 23, 1865.